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Jesus and the Stubbornly Tenacious Woman from Canaan


Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied,

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

(Matthew 15:21-28)

I wonder . . . was it her faith or her stubborn tenacity that led to her daughter’s healing? Stubbornness is typically not one of the virtues to which Christians aspire. In fact most of Christendom would rebuke a stubborn woman, in ages past as well as in our day. I know this to be truth! I have been rebuked a time or two, or at least received “strong suggestions” that I should dial back my demeanor. The woman of Canaan, though, returned to Jesus again and again until he healed her suffering daughter.

I can be a bit tenacious, but no one would describe me as stubborn. I typically have a very calm and quiet demeanor, but I remember well one of the few times in my life when I was fierce and stubborn. Our son Jonathan was quite young and very sick with severe vomiting, along with strong spasms that caused him to be unable to breathe. The loud inhalations as he struggled to get a breath were extremely frightening to us, especially to him. Jonathan was a strong boy, an athlete, and very self-sufficient, but these long episodes brought him directly to his Momma. We had been to the hospital emergency room and were now in his pediatrician’s office. This violent gasping for air had been going on for hours, and it should have been obvious to the office staff that Jonathan was in trouble.

Now they would know real trouble!

Jonathan had another violent attack. I jumped up from my chair, went to the desk, and had some strong words to say, in a loud voice, with the passion of a mother desperate to protect her child. I got the familiar line about the doctor running behind.

You know, I don’t care if the doctor is behind! (in my loudest voice) Can you not see and hear that my child is throwing up all over your waiting area and is unable to breathe? Do you realize that he could be infecting every child in here? Take us to an exam room, NOW, and get the doctor away from whatever he’s doing! Because if you don’t, I am headed to the president of Baptist Medical Center who knows me very well because I am a chaplain in this hospital!

Not like me at all! But that is a “Momma response” that almost always erupts when her child is hurting or in trouble. We were in a desperate place and were being ignored. Jonathan was terribly frightened and had been dealing with these spasms for hours. In time (too much time) it was resolved and we were able to get Jonathan settled and resting.

And about the “Canaanite Momma” . . . well, she was definitely stubborn and persistent that day. Clearly, Jesus did not realize who he was dealing with. Maybe he did know! Perhaps Jesus knew precisely what he was doing and chose to use his encounter with the woman from Canaan as a teaching moment for his hearers. Or perhaps he was simply in a stubborn mood and found himself facing someone who could easily match him, stubborn for stubborn!

Either way, the story shows us that when it comes to saving what needs to be saved, being merely nice and calm won’t usually win the day. Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering! The text simply portrays the Canaanite woman as a stubborn, persistent mother of a very sick daughter.

Remember, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. She was obviously making a lot of noise, crying out and disturbing their quietude! On top of that, Jesus was somewhat stubborn himself, saying that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.

But this “Canaanite Momma” went back to Jesus straightaway, knelt down before him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And we know what Jesus finally did. He praised her faith and healed her daughter. So was it faith or was it stubbornness, persistence? Maybe it was both, that her faith empowered her to stubborn persistence. Clearly, she believed Jesus was able to heal her daughter, so she tried to convince Jesus more than once. The disciples didn’t deter her. Jesus Could not dissuade her with his statement about dogs!

“Woman, you have great faith.”

A wonderful portrayal of what this woman might have said about her encounter with Jesus is a poem written by Jan Richardson entitled “Stubborn Blessing.”

Stubborn Blessing

Don’t tell me no.
i have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill from your hands like water, like wine,
seen you with circles and circles of crowds pressed around you
and not one soul turned away.

Don’t start with me.

i am saying
you can close the door
but i will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but i will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but i will trace a bigger one
around you,
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother for stubbornness.

i am saying
i know what you
can do with crumbs
and i am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
unclench your hand,
your heart.
let the scraps fall
like manna,
like mercy
for the life
of my child,
the life of
the world.

Don’t you tell me no.

— Jan Richardson
https://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/08/11/stubborn-blessing/

The work of protection is definitely not for the faint of heart. The work of advocacy on behalf of another person may take some stubborn persistence, the kind of stubborn persistence that Jesus seemed to call by another name — “great faith.” When we advocate for people who are suffering, especially people in need of profound physical healing or deep spiritual healing, their greatest need calls us to our greatest resolve, a fierce resolve. Maybe a touch of defiance! It is in those moments that we call on our hearts to give us strength for sacred stubbornness that will heal the broken, comfort the brokenhearted, restore justice to those who are oppressed.

That is faith! “Great faith!”

Happy New Year, My Friends!

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Wishing you and those you love a new year of deep kindness, exuberant joy and gentle peace. And may you go forward into the unknown without fear, knowing that God will lead you safely into the new year ahead.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the new year:
Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.

And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

—- Minnie Haskins

 

We Can Still Sing Alleluias!

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Christmas Day

December 25, 2019

LATER

Later
after the angels,
after the stable,
after the Child,
they went back …
as we always must,
back to the world that doesn’t understand
our talk of angels and stars
and especially not the Child.
We go back complaining that it doesn’t last.
They went back singing praises to God!
We do have to go back,
but we can still sing the alleluias!

— Ann Weems

Christmas Day — it will pass too soon, out of sight for another year. The angels topping our trees will be packed away. The stars on our garlands will be neatly rolled up and packed into a box. The tinsel gone! The ornaments gone! The lights unplugged! The candles extinguished! Until another year.

And we all go back to a “world that doesn’t understand our talk of angels and stars and especially not the Child.” The world goes back to life as usual, no longer graced with the brilliance of Christmas. The wars rage on across the globe, swords replacing plowshares. The racism again begins to reign. The political parties spew hatred one to the other. Hunger remains and poverty still devastates. The border wall continues to send its message of exclusion.

It’s all the same, just as it was before. It seems that the gentle spirit of Christmas changed our spirits for only a brief moment. We slip back again into our normal lives, perhaps forgetting the silent night when the star shone over a Child. As the poem says so poignantly, Christmas doesn’t last. We do have to go back to a life that can be oppressively normal, a world that can be oppressively cruel.

But there is Good News! Because God Incarnate came to us, there is Gospel Good News! Even though we have to go back, “we can still sing the alleluias!” We can sing year around if we want to. We can sing alleluias in good times and bad, in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

We can sing alleluias, like the angels who still sing in the heavens. CDD97A09-E1FB-4271-9382-B8B7F35697B1We can sing alleluias because “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Peace

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The Second Sunday in Advent

The Sunday of Peace
December 8, 2019

PEACE ON EARTH

“Peace on earth, goodwill to all” . . .
The song came out like one loud hosanna
hurled through the earth’s darkness,
lighting the Bethlehem sky.

Sometimes I hear it now,
but it means a baby in a manger;
it means a time of year,
a cozy feeling,
a few coins in the Salvation Army bucket.

It doesn’t mean much —
and then it’s gone,
lost in the tinsel.

Where did the angels’ song go?
Who hushed the alleluias?

Was it death and war and disease and poverty?
Was it darkness and chaos and famine and plague?
Who brought violence and took away the sweet plucking of heavenly harps?
Who brought despair and took away hope?
Who brought barrenness and crushed the flowers?
Who stole the music and brought the silence?
What Herods lurk within our world seeking to kill our children?

Are there are still those
who listen for the brush of angel wings
and look for stars above some godforsaken little stable?

Are there still those
who long to hear an angel’s song
and touch a star?

To kneel beside some shepherd
in the hope of catching a glimpse of eternity
in a baby’s smile?

Are there still those who sing
“Peace on earth, goodwill to all?”

If there are — then, O Lord,
keep ablaze their flickering candle
in the darkness of this world!

— Ann Weems

How to I manage to keep my candle ablaze in the darkness of this world? Doing so is a hard thing at times. I watch. I listen for sights and sounds that herald peace on earth, yet almost every day I see the world’s chaos instead. I contemplate what I might do in creating peace and come up empty. As in the carol I have sung during so many Advents …

Then in despair I bowed my head; 
There is no peace on earth,” I said.
“For hate is strong and mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Despair seems to be a constant companion in these days. Children separated from parents and detained in cages. Gun violence rampant. Vitriolic relationships among those who govern our nation. Climate change harming communities. Refugees searching for safe havens.

I turn toward the words of Ann Weems and ask, “Who stole the music and brought the silence?”

Are there are still those
who listen for the brush of angel wings
and look for stars above some godforsaken little stable?

Are there still those
who long to hear an angel’s song
and touch a star?

Are people of peace still singing “Peace on earth, goodwill to all?” If there are — even if there are only a few — then we pray to God that their flickering candle of peace would light the world’s darkness,

Advent’s prayer for peace remains on our lips:

O Lord, keep ablaze their flickering candle in the darkness of this world!

Amen.

Sacred Mystery

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Around 3:00 am this morning, I was awake and alert, having tossed and turned for hours, wishing for daybreak. I was also fasted and prepared for medical tests. But before I tell you about this day’s fasting, I need to reach back and call up some of my memories of other times. 
While wide awake in bed, I thought about some of the fasting times I have experienced, each a singular blessing making way for sacred space.

Fasting was a part of my early childhood. Being a Greek Orthodox child with a religiously devout Yiayia (grandmother), I learned early in life about fasting. Even though I was only 8-years old, Yiayia adamantly believed I was old enough to memorize prayers from the liturgy and recite them — in Greek. And a part of her plan was designed to prepare me for Holy Communion. I must give her some good-grandmothing credit — she did have a fasting experience for me that was age-appropriate, meaning it was not as long a fasting time as the adults observed and certainly not as stringent. No meat, of course, but some laxity on dairy and liquids because I was always an orange juice child that needed to drink a lot. 

Yiayia accommodated my need for plenty of juice and chocolate milk. Still, I thought I might starve before my fast was over and I received the wine and, finally, the little square of communion bread that I scarfed down. I am pretty certain, though, that I did not fully embrace this sacred mystery of prayer, fasting and the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

Years passed and young adult fasting times came in times of deep angst. There were troubled times when the only hope I thought I had came through prayer and fasting. Looking back on that time, I realize that I experienced just a glimpse of the meaning behind a fast. More awareness and appreciation of the sacred mystery would come much later in life. 

Maturity and age created in me a seeking spirit that longed for deep meaning. I remember so vividly my time of fasting for my profession of vows before entering the novitiate of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. The occasion happened in the desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico, quite an appropriate setting for my introduction to a contemplative life. Dry, expansive desert and big skies that went on forever captured my imagination. It occurred to me at the time that I was experiencing just a tiny glimmer of desert spirituality. This fast in the desert was really the first time I immersed myself fully in the sacred mystery of fasting. 

Now back to this day while waiting for daybreak after a night of tossing and worrying. This fasting morning was not religious at all, but necessary for information the kidney doctors needed from the 30 vials of blood The Mayo Clinic phlebotomist retrieved from my flimsy vein. 

But come to think of it, today’s fasting may be the most sacred of all because it leads to the mystery and science of a kidney transplant. When a donor comes forward willing to give a gift of life from his or her own body, that feels very much like sacred mystery. 

God orchestrated the entire experience. And by the way, God knows all about my tossing and turning in the wee hours of this morning. God understands my anxiety and fear. God understands the emotional place of anticipating a kidney transplant after five years of waiting.

I have always loved the imagery of this scripture verse written by the Psalmist. Today seems like a good day to ponder it.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?

— Psalm 56:8 (NRSV)

Tomorrow is the day. If all goes well, tomorrow I will get a new kidney. If for some medical reason, the transplant does not happen, I still know and understand the sacred mystery that God keeps count of my tossings and saves my tears in a bottle. And that’s enough for me.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant tomorrow at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to rea the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

Two Love Stories

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This past Friday, Fred and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. My “techie computer geek” husband declared it our 18,262nd Day-versary! Either way, it has been a long run, and one for which I am very grateful.

Not that you care about our love story, but I want to tell it. When we met during my first year of college, neither of us were looking for a romantic relationship. It could not happen, in fact, with the two of us. Our friends insisted we were not a good match. Fred asked me out on a dare from his friends who told him I wouldn’t go out with him.

They were very wrong! After all, Fred had Andy Williams and Roger Miller concert tickets. (Now I have revealed my age and my era!) On top of that, it was Homecoming weekend at the University of Alabama! I really wanted to go to that concert!

After the concert, Fred walked me to the door of my dorm. When I turned to leave, he pulled me back and kissed me. I’m not sure exactly what it was about that kiss, but it was instantaneous. I was in love! Silly, right? I walked up the stairs to my third floor dorm room and found my roommate and my across-the-hall friends waiting for me.

They looked at me with great anticipation. “Well, how was it?” they asked, not at all expecting my response.

I said simply, “I’m going to marry him.”

Raucous laughter filled the room, and as we used to say, “They rolled in the floor laughing!”

I assured them that I was not kidding as all three of them stared at me with expressions that ranged from puzzlement to complete disbelief. And that was that for a Friday night first date!

On Monday, Fred had not called me as I expected he would. So I called him and asked him to come over on Monday evening for a walk on the campus. His response was that he might come after his fraternity meeting.

That kind of noncommittal response was not acceptable to me. I fretted for several hours wondering if he would come.

He came. We walked. And then next to a huge tree in the middle of the campus quadrangle, I said, “God told me we are going to get married.”

His response was a typical “Fred” response. “God has not told me anything about that!”

Be that as it may, we got married nine months’ later, beginning a life journey filled with experiences in five states, several cities, and a few foreign countries, a 50 year journey.

I don’t really need to make this story religious, but I can’t help but think of the love story of Rebekah and Isaac and the ways it intersects with our story. First of all, Rebekah’s family did not arrange her marriage as was the custom. It all began by a well of water where a servant of Abraham landed in his search for a wife for Isaac. He had asked God for a sign, saying that whoever agrees to draw water from the well for him and his camels will be the woman for Isaac.

Rebekah was near that well, and as the story goes, she very kindly drew water for Abraham’s servant and all of his animals. She was the one God had chosen, then.

Almost immediately, the decision was finalized with Rebekah’s parents. The servant asked that they might leave the next day, definitely not enough time to gather a dowry and pack Rebekah’s things. Her parents asked for ten days to prepare, but the servant was insistent that they leave immediately.

Rebekah would very likely be leaving her home and her family forever. So the parents asked her if she was willing to leave the next day. She said, “I will go.” (Genesis 25:50-67) She made the decision to marry a stranger, sight unseen, and began her long journey to Isaac and his homeland and his people.

As for Isaac, he loved her instantly, and it seems that their marriage was good and solid and filled with love. Life had not blessed them with the children they desperately wanted. They waited, and prayed, for twenty years. And then God answered their prayers and Rebekah conceived. Twin boys were born to them, another story in itself.

But in these two love stories, mine and Rebekah’s, there are common threads: love out of the blue; an unexpected, almost spur of the moment, decision to marry; an immediate journey far away from home; a long unrequited desire to have children; God in the center of it all.

I could describe my own relationship with Fred in much the same way as Rebekah might have described hers. There was love — instantaneous love — that came out of the blue, a quick decision to marry, a journey to a new state, the inability to conceive, and most importantly, God in the center of all of it.

Ours has been a beautiful love story, exciting at times and at other times mundane, joyful at times and at other times covered with sorrow. There was disappointment and hope along the way, and times of despair. All of it, we faced together — as one — hanging on to each other and to God. In spite of the risk of sounding syrupy religious, I could say that God wrote our love story.

Our journey has been long and winding, and I would be lying if I said the road we traveled had no rough places. Our journey, in fact, took us over broken roads strewn with jagged rocks, even boulders that stopped us in our tracks for a time. Still, it was a journey we loved.

Over our fifty years together, much has been said about our love story, from the first burst of our friends’ laughter and disbelief, to the comments that we didn’t seem at all like a good match. In the end, if there’s anything to be said, it is that ours has been a love constant and enduring. It was a soul match, actually, and I thank God for giving it to us.

 

 

 

Glistening Waters

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You simply cannot underestimate your emotional response to the sight of the ocean and its sunlit glistening waters. It’s almost like being able to take a deep breath when you haven’t breathed deeply for weeks, even months. This morning, for a few minutes of a lovely vacation, I looked down from our balcony to watch the stunning Gulf waters light up like tiny fireworks, such a beautiful escape from reality.

Still, you cannot escape when the world keeps turning, Hurricane Dorian threatens communities, and there is, once again, a reason to grieve the headline news of the day. How disheartening it is when the president of this nation goes lower and lower in his determination to dehumanize people and cause irreparable harm.

All the glistening ocean waters in the world cannot ease this sadness — learning the stories of very sick children who have 33 days to leave hospital intensive care units and return to their countries, while mourning a nation that seems to be disappearing.

Anthony Marino, director of immigration legal services, described the horrific dilemma: “I don’t know how they expect parents to pull their children from hospital beds, disconnect them from lifesaving treatments and go some place where they are know they are going to die. But that is what they are telling them to do.”

Often, I have posted the poignant and beautiful words written by my friend, Maren. I must do that today for the readers of my blog. Maren has captured the emotion of our shared grief.

 

PRAYER FOR THE SICK CHILDREN DEPORTATION

God, whom I’ve called
to sit with me all night long,
when I rocked children
with sore throats, swollen tonsils,
coughs that wouldn’t let them sleep,

when I promised
a precious one
everything would be better
as they pulled on their ear lobes,
or cried to be brave
with their broken bones,

rest your hands and heart
on parents who have come here
with their children
to be treated for
cancer or cerebral palsy,
cystic fibrosis or HIV,
eye malignancies,
short bowel syndrome,
heart disease,
or during the long wait
for a transplant.

For this government
is taking the lullabies away,

and in this new and cruel
deportation
turned Make-a-Wish
into Lose a Hope.

 

Visit Maren’s blog at: https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/prayer-for-the-sick-children-deportation/

Where Is Our Music?

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This is not a “ripped from the headlines” opinion article. It is not about a current crisis going on in the world, though I could write about many. But since it’s Friday, how about a gentler and kinder blog post on a subject easier to contemplate, one that hints at real joy!

This blog post is about something as old as time, something timeless and enduring and cherished. Something that is meant, among other things, to bring us joy. It’s about the music that tells our stories — the stories of a nation, of a community, of a church.

The benefits of music on the mind and body have been recognized since the days of the Greek philosophers. According to Plato, music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.”

Today, researchers and scientists continue to explore how music affects emotions by  improving and enriching the way we think, feel and relate to the world. So we might ask the researchers, “where is our music?” Those in the know say that our music is in the right side of our brains, but researchers also tell us that listening to and performing music impacts the brain as a whole. Music stimulates both halves of the brain — the analytical brain (left) and the subjective-artistic brain (right). While the left brain processes elements in music such as pitch, tempo and structure, the right brain — often considered the more creative hemisphere — focuses on the melody in the music. 

And that’s all the physiological and psychological, scientific trivia I have about music. What I really want to share is how music affects worship. Where is our music when we worship?

I happen to be Baptist, and Baptists have deep roots in musical expressions of worship, seldom finding it difficult to sing from the heart — with unbridled joy — making melody and harmony that would soar through church sanctuaries large and small, simple and ornate.

Hymn singing has long been one of the most cherished acts of worship for Baptists. I dare say that many Baptists remember hearing about “the great hymns of the church” from an early age and learning about church music in their Music Makers or Young Musicians choirs. If funds allowed, the minister of music (AKA choir director) would receive music booklets from a subscription service designed so that children would learn about hymnody, music in worship, choir member deportment and, as we used to describe it, “singing parts.” 

Not so much today. These days, it seems that joyful, exuberant hymn singing is a little more difficult for worshippers. Many congregations are regrettably a bit more restrained than they once were. As for music in my personal experience, well these days the church music in my world is restrained enough to make me wonder, where is our music?

I have to say that our music is still an important element of our church’s worship, with hymns carefully and creatively selected to enhance worship. Then what’s the problem? I believe problem to be our disimpassioned attitude when we sing. That kind of attitude is robbing us of music’s full spiritual expression. I am not, by any means, a professional musician that can comment on hymn texts, hymn tunes, meter, or the history of Christian hymnody. I am merely a worshipper who finds music to be a primary expression of true worship. With a bit of reticence, I approach the conclusion that some of us sometimes sing words without paying attention to their meaning, sing hymns without noticing their theological message, or sadly, do not really sing at all, certainly not from the heart.

It is not for me to ensure that congregations sing and appreciate the words they are singing. I have no power at all to make individuals sing from their hearts. Yet, music that does not come from the heart is something like “fake worship.” 

There are so many ways our hymns can touch the heart and aid worship. I mention only three that seem most important to remember.

MUSIC EXPRESSES JOY . . . 

Most certainly, our songs and hymns can and should be expressions of joy. People in church don’t smile much, but singing, “then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee, how great Thou art!” ought to cause us to smile with holy joy! The Scripture calls us to joy:

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—
I whom you have delivered.   — Psalm 71:23

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God with thanksgiving
and extol God with music and song.  
 — Psalm 95:1-2

MUSIC EXPRESSES THEOLOGICALLY SOUND THOUGHTS . . .

The hymns we sing in worship not only inspire us, they instruct us. A hymn like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is theologically sound, proclaiming the attributes of God. There are many such hymns that enhance our knowledge of God. The Scripture challenges us to wisdom and identifies singing hymns as one way we learn.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  — Colossians 3:16

MUSIC EXPRESSES OUR BEST WORSHIP . . .

When I contemplate that phrase in Colossians — singing to God with gratitude in your heart — I am prompted to more fully express my faith through song. I hope that our singing truly is an act of true worship, a time when we invite the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to be in our midst. Consider Solomon’s dedication of the temple. When all the preparations were done and the temple was finished, the worshippers sang and played instruments as an expression of praise, and the result was astounding.

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

“He is good; his love endures forever.”

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud,
and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud,
for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.   — 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14

So I wonder: where is our music? Do we find it through our casual singing of three hymns every Sunday, or it is more than that? Could we make our singing more personally meaningful by paying  closer attention to the words of a hymn, receiving the thoughts expressed in the hymn into our spirit and reacting to them as part of our expression of worship?

I don’t know exactly what a temple “filled with the cloud” looks like. But it seems that a result of our songs of praise might well become cloud-like, as God’s Holy Spirit joins us in worship and fills the sanctuary with the power of wind and flame.

Don’t we need that kind of worship experience?

Just a Fun Distraction

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Just a note that might bring a mild distraction for your day, hopefully a meaningful and fun distraction.

A blogging colleague of mine, Dr. Eric Perry, PhD, posted the above graphic on his Facebook page. He said that it has had over 40k shares with 10k+ comments and that it reached 6 million people! Wow!

Since so many people responded to it so well, I thought I should share it with you.

Identify the first four words you see in the graphic above.

Mine were, in this order:

Power
Strength
Miracle
Breakthrough

I really need all of those in my life right now, so I chose to receive it as a message — a harbinger — a sign of things to come for me.

So use your four words in any way that makes sense for you. Or not at all!

For those of us who playfully read fortune cookie messages, this might be fun. Enjoy!

 

Holy Energy!

There is a very special call from God that lets you know that it is your call and that no one else can respond to it quite like you can. It brings with it a kind of holy, inexplicable energy.

Your call may be teaching or preaching, caring for others or working with children, tending the sick or lifting up those who live in poverty. Your call may take you down your street or halfway across the world. But when you hear your call and know it, you will also know the feeling of that holy energy. There’s really nothing quite like it. Its precisely the reason that no human has enough power to thwart your call for any reason — for being a woman, or being too old, too young, too inexperienced. No human can steal the holy energy of your call!

Preaching releases every kind of holy energy for me. Preaching creates in me a unique awareness of my body, mind and spirit. It is, above all, a soul exercise that brings me fresh new life. That’s the best way I can describe the event we call preaching, at least from my view. But it is so much more than just an event; it is a 20 minute pursuit of truth, inspiration and spirit movement. It is for the hearer and for the proclaimer, for both are in this place of spiritual replenishment in need of new awakening to the things of God.

Last fall, I preached at my church in Macon. It was a rare opportunity, a red-letter day really. It was the first time I had preached since my illness. It had been roughly five years since I stood in a pulpit to do what I have been called to do. Those who have a similar calling probably know the angst of not preaching when God has called you, for God’s call is a lifelong agreement. For me, there is something life-giving in the act of preaching a sermon. I experience a special connection to the congregation that feels as if it moves by the wind of the Spirit. 

So it would not be an exaggeration to say that I miss preaching deeply. I miss being a pastor. I miss creating worship experiences for a congregation. 

But back to the opportunity to preach at my church . . . 

I was looking forward to the holy energy, hoping it would come back to me after so long a time. And this was such an important life event for me that I had several conversations with “my village.” Most importantly, I had a conversation with my former pastor and colleague in ministry from the previous church I served in Little Rock. I think I needed some encouragement that I could still preach after so many years of illness. The words — the right words — came just in time from a person I will always consider to be my pastor. He is a person I greatly admire, and a male minister who knows how to serve a congregation in mutuality and communion with a woman. He is a minister who embodies that holy energy I’m talking about, and he inspires others to find or reclaim their holy energy.

How rare it is to enjoy the interrelationship and kinship of male and female in mission and ministry! I miss the time we served New Millennium Church together. I miss Wendell Griffen’s support, encouragement and respect. So when we exchanged messages that day, his words were the right words, the words I really needed to hear, so transformative for me in that moment that I copied them to my journal. This is what I wrote:

From Wendell, September 30, 2018:

“Praying for and with you, Kathy!  Preach like only you can!  New Millennium is praying with you, Reverend!”

It occurs to me that all of us need encouragement at times. We need persons who will cheer us on, persons who will believe in us when we don’t believe so much in ourselves. For me it was an illness that interrupted my life. For others a life interruption can be any sort of change — the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, dealing with an empty nest, moving to another home, leaving a church and searching for another church. For whatever reason, life interruptions do hold some measure of power that can break us down and assault our confidence.

It is no big news to know that life interruptions can throw us face-down in the dirt, and it is extremely important for us to have the fortitude and the will to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. It’s not so easy to do that for so many reasons. With self confidence eroded, we can be motionless, bereft of spirit, with little energy left. 

So then, we must do two things to make sure that we can reposition ourselves — upright and moving forward after a life interruption. The first is to recall the Divine promises of a God who always holds us up. These are three of the promises that give me hope:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .So we do not lose heart . . . For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.

— 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16,17 NRSV

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

— 1 Peter 5:10 NRSV

Thus says God, the Lord . . .

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

— Isaiah 42:5-7 NRSV

The second thing we must do is to surround ourselves with a community of care, love and grace — individuals who will listen, understand and always encourage. The book of Hebrews offers us good instruction to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24 RSV)

Each person has the opportunity to open up their hearts and spirits to the calling of God. Each person will hear the call to mission in their own way. Each person will decide whether or not to respond to God’s call on their life. But all of us — together in community — will be able to hear God’s call clearer and find in ourselves more courage to follow. Community, when it is genuine, is like that.

I hope that you will find your genuine community as you listen for God’s call to you, the call that no other person can fulfill. I hope that you will experience holy energy, that fire in your bones that no human can extinguish. There’s really nothing quite like it!